Since mid January one of the wildest stories leading up to the NFL Draft is that of Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict is known for his hard hits, aggressive football skills and, unfortunately, his on-field antics.
Over the life of his college career he committed 17 personal foul penalties in just 35 games and this once-promising young star has seen his draft stock plummet. His junior year wasn’t near as productive as his sophomore year where he was a standout player. Leading up to the draft he has taken one of the worst media beatings in the history of sports. Why? Was it because he didn’t run a good 40-yard dash? Or because he let his emotions get the best of him on the field and hurt his team with costly penalties?
Since working as a writer for Mocking the Draft, I have noticed how analysts will talk about a player, but never go to the source. In this case, that’s what I wanted to do. Today, we’ll give you some background story on Burfict and an exclusive Q&A will follow on Tuesday.
In the 1980’s Vontaze’s parents, Lisa Williams and Vontaze Deleon (Lonnie) Burfict were running with gangs on the streets of Central Los Angeles, one of the hardest neighborhoods in the United States. When most people outside the area think of gang activity and the streets of South Central, they think about prominent rappers like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac, who glorified a "gangster lifestyle." His parents had to protect their image in a violent society where few people get out. It wasn’t always easy, but on Sept. 24 1990, things would change for Vontaze’s mother. She gave birth to Vontaze Jr., a chunky baby who changed the way she saw the world. No more than a few months later, Vontaze Sr. went to Texas with some friends and was arrested on possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Since then Vontaze Sr. has been in and out of prison and is currently serving a 25-year sentence for drug related charges. This was one of the toughest times for the mother of Vontaze Jr. She had to decide whether to stay in L.A. or move her family.
She moved back to her mother’s house in Corona, California but quickly found it was no different than Los Angeles. Instead of the Bloods and Crips running the streets, there were gangs like Vatos Locos.
Still, to benefit her family, Lisa had to change her lifestyle. She worked numerous jobs to provide Vontaze with a good upbringing. He grew up playing football with friends and family, and always dreamed of one day playing in the NFL.
But first, there were many obstacles in his way, on the field and off. At Centennial High School, a member of the Vatos Locos gang fatally stabbed his best friend Dominic Redd 13 times. That event drove Vontaze to better himself on the field instead of figuring out a way to retaliate. Soon after Redd’s death, Vontaze would become close friends with Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee who were both teammates. Vontaze, Lyons and Magee all made a pact to thrive at all phases in life.
The three set out to dominate the competition every Friday night. As a freshman Vontaze began using his anger on the football field, fueling his intensity. He began getting compared to guys like Ray Lewis (his favorite player) at an early age. When they graduated Lyons and Magee both went to Arizona State. It later played a large part in Vontaze’s college decision as well.
Vontaze finished high school leading an undefeated Huskies team that won a CIF title, and a state championship with the help of eventual Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. An invitation to play in the US Army All-American Bowl soon followed.
He was rated the No. 1 inside linebacker in high school by ESPN. In high school, Burfict had academic struggles, but started to see scholarships pile up. Teams like Southern California, Colorado, Arizona State were among the teams interested. Burfict wanted to play for his hometown team USC. But on National Signing Day, he switched his commitment to play with his two friends at ASU. He became the most highly recruited player to sign with the Sun Devils that year.
In Burfict’s freshman year, he showed why he was a top-five player in the nation out of high school. He turned heads in the Pac-10 with hard hits and amazing play. He was named Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, when he accrued 69 tackles, seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. As a sophomore, he showed even more promise finishing the season with a team-leading 90 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and two forced fumbles. Burfict was named Pac-10 defensive MVP and first team All-American, the first since Terrell Suggs.
In Burfict’s junior season, though, things didn’t start so well. During an off-season practice, Burfict was involved in a locker room fight, punching teammate Kevin Ozier. He aso bulked up to 260 pounds to try to play more physical but instead, it slowed him down on the field.
"To be honest in his junior year, when it started off, Coach Erickson had told Vontaze to not try to get as many penalties, so in the beginning of the year, Vontaze was really playing differently than we had seen in the past", said Doug Haller who covers ASU Football for the Arizona Republic. Haller went on to say "He wasn’t the same; he wasn’t all over the field like he had been in the past. Coach Erickson then told him that he wanted him to finish the plays and go back to playing football."
Burfict had the image of a bad boy, and it was a picture that could only be supported by his play on the field. Personal fouls were frequently called against Burfict, and it began irritating the ASU coaching staff. He also stopped talking to the media. "Vontaze should have been disciplined differently, but because he never really spoke to the media, it probably hurt him more," Haller said. "He was never really able to get out his side of the story, so the reporters always ran with what they were told, even with the personal fouls. The media was only able to get one side of the story and that is what they ran with." Before the 2011 game against USC, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley called Burfict a "dirty player." The linebacker did little to ease that label by infamously pointing at Barkley before the snap.
"I was called numerous times and sent anonymous emails to check on stories about Vontaze," Haller said. "There would be calls all the time saying Vontaze was arrested, or got into a bar fight. I would immediately begin investigating; I would call the Tempe police department to find out that every single one of the reports was false."
"Vontaze was never in trouble with the law, or was arrested that I know of, he was a really quiet kid who I found out later would stay at home most of the nights."
In the game against USC, Burfict had a game-changing interception which led the Sun Devils to a 43-23 victory. A rash of personal fouls continued, though, and he pushed to the second team during ASU’s bowl game. Still, he finished 2011 with 69 tackles, with 7 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. After the season, he entered the NFL Draft, hiring agent Chuck Price of Prestige Sports Management. Despite the season he had, many draftniks had him rated as a mid first round pick, and very few said he wouldn’t be taken in the first round. So what happened from this point in Vontaze Burfict’s career? Let’s look at the timetable of what happened since Burfict made the decision to forgo his senior year until now.
1. The news of the fight in the locker room in the off-season came out, when it was swept under the rug back in the off-season.
2. Burfict was invited to the NFL Combine, and when he was interviewed, he blamed the coaches for his poor performance.
3. After his interview, he had a poor combine, where he ran a 5.1 40-yard dash and had a poor broad jump and vertical.
4. Burfict blamed the poor performance on immaturity on his part, but took blame for the poor performance.
5. Burfict then had two pro day workouts, where he was able to run a 4.8 40-yard dash, and began improving his stock.
6. Thedaily.com writer John Walters reported that Burfict has not had any private workouts with teams.
Until I know the truth, it’s difficult to completely judge a player. Since I do not know the truth, I wanted to find it out. Check back tomorrow for our complete Q&A with Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict.